The word usually translated “ark” in the Biblical text is tevah, an Egyptian loan-word meaning “box.” This particular box kept the killer Flood out, but nonetheless it was a box of misery. The midrash tells us that Noach and his sons did not sleep for a year because all the animals needed feeding around the clock.
Some of the animals were dangerous: a lion bit Noach so badly that he carried the scars for the rest of his life. Noach’s family was trapped for forty days and forty nights with ravenous, miserable animals. Quoting Psalm 142:8, Bring my soul out of prison, that I may give thanks, the rabbis tell us this refers to Noach’s prayer to be released from the prison the ark had become, because life inside his box had become nothing but agony.
The rabbis pitied Noach, but they also judged him very harshly: he accepted God’s orders without asking any questions. Abraham, by comparison, had advocated for his fellow human beings in Genesis 18:22-33, when he asked God to spare the evil city of Sodom if even ten righteous people lived there.
A version of this drash first appeared in the CCAR Newsletter.